The Netherlands can be an inspiration for Slovakia, agreed participants of the Smart City Academy

God created the world but the Dutch created the Netherlands. This old saying reflects the connection of the Netherlands with water and the fact that the Dutch could have adapted their lives in the country where a third of the territory is located under the sea, or better said under the sea level. Emigration to a geographically safer country would be a natural choice for many people. Not for the Dutch. They managed to make inhabitable more than one million ares of land in seven centuries. A part of this area was acquired by drying lakes, but a more important part was reached from the sea by building dams, channels and artificial rivers. Just windmills that are so typical for the Netherlands were a big help in the recultivation. Thanks to them, they can make a so-called polder – an inhabitable place – from an original water land within 15 years.

The Netherlands was visited by the first this year’s Smart City Academy with representatives of Slovak municipalities to get some experience and inspiration. Currently, the Netherlands can be proud to be one of the most densely populated countries not only in Europe but worldwide. Everything despite the fact that one third of the country actually did not exist just a few centuries ago. Also this is the reason why they need to plan precisely and take care of sustainable development of towns in the Netherlands.

“The Netherlands belongs to the countries with the highest density of population per square meter; the consequence of this fact is that many people live in cities and towns, and thus also the municipalities must address the question of how to live optimally in such large agglomerations in the 21st century. The Dutch are very pragmatic, connected with nature, ecology, and thus climate protection comes to the fore very significantly. The Dutch have become leaders in the fight against climatic changes, they fight for environmental protection, against air pollution, and of course, the state-of-the-art ecological technologies come to the absolute fore,” says Juraj Macháč, Ambassador of the Slovak Republic in the Netherlands.

With their experience in various fields, the Netherlands has become one of the most modern and most rapidly progressing countries in Europe. Thus, it is a great inspiration also for Slovak municipalities. It may offer both positive and negative experience that should be avoided in the implementation of innovations in Slovak towns and villages to reach an effective result. However, a solution that works in one place cannot be copied and used elsewhere. They should rather serve as an inspiration or a guide on how to proceed, but if it should not be in vain, it is necessary to adapt it to Slovak conditions.

“The Netherlands is an inspiration for us. We have been cooperating in several projects in Slovakia for a long term together with the Netherlands and the Dutch Embassy. Regarding the area, the Netherlands is similarly large to Slovakia, while it has three times more inhabitants; despite that, they have a significantly lower number of municipalities which, in my opinion, leads to higher efficiency, more professional capacities and a better form of cooperation,” explains Miloslav Jurík, the chairman of the Smart Cities Klub that organised the study stay for the representatives of municipalities in the Netherlands within the Smart City Academy.

Just for the experience of Dutch municipalities and institutions, this country was the destination of the work trip of Slovak mayors, vice-mayors and representatives of municipalities in Dutch cities The Hague, Amsterdam, Groningen and Rotterdam – with the emphasis on innovations and inspiration for enhancement of ecological mobility and improvement of air and environment in Slovak municipalities. A great inspiration is the establishment of the AMS Institute – an innovative centre that was established from the initiative of the city, involving three universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), bringing new ideas for the development of solutions for the city of Amsterdam as well as for surrounding towns, and towns in the Netherlands in general. This approach would be feasible within the new programme period for the development of Slovak municipalities.

“I was very impressed by the collaboration among the academic sector, the city, private companies, establishing an ecosystem that produces innovations. Projects of robotic boats, projects in the field of hub mobility, shared mobility, e-bikes, electric cars and other fields that positively affect air quality in the city were very interesting. I was also impressed by the collaboration among municipalities, the state, other sectors in removing barriers between individual sections. We have learned about this collaboration in the VNG association of Dutch municipalities. They are striving for a conversion from the “ego system” to an ecosystem. It means from a system where everybody is responsible for his/her area and does not think about the work of the others, to a system of collaboration,” adds Miloslav Jurík.

Slovak municipalities are on a good way to follow the Dutch ones. Already in our towns or villages, we can see the first changes towards the creation of conditions for the implementation of smart solutions and they are becoming smart municipalities. And just the visit to the Netherlands has become for many of them an inspiration for further progress of their towns.

The mayor of Dubnica nad Váhom, Peter Wolf talks about very fruitful meetings and they will try to implement many ideas also in their town. “I am happy that we could travel abroad again with the Smart Cities Klub, like in the past. At that time, we were dealing with other issues in our town. Currently, we are dealing with mobility very actively. I am glad we could be just in the Netherlands – in the country that is a leader in sustainable solutions. There were really a lot of inspirations, we have acquired many ideas and I believe that also inspiring experience by actually trying moving around Amsterdam, The Hague and other towns by bike. So we tried how it worked in large cities with heavy bike traffic. And I think it was very inspiring and constructive.”

The work trip is assessed positively also by other representatives of municipalities. They say that we should organise such excursions to progressive cities more often. In the implementation of solutions in Slovakia, we would probably better avoid complications that were experienced by municipalities abroad several years ago. “We face certain challenges they probably do not face here in the Netherlands.  Their development, as we had the chance to discuss, started in 1970’s in Rotterdam. What we can see today is a result of good decisions in the past and has taken 50 years to get to this point. We are somewhere in the middle of our road and it will take some time to get to a similar stage,” says Marcel Gibóda, the vice-mayor of Košice.

Also the vice-mayor of Michalovce, Jozef Sokologorský, agrees and says that Dutch municipalities are a big inspiration. “I am very glad that I have been here and I can use the experience just from the country that is one of the best in innovations in Europe. I am very glad that also our town Michalovce is a member of the Smart Cities Klub and has a chance to participate in such foreign work trips here in the Netherlands. I think that it is very important for the municipalities to see how innovative elements can be done within the municipalities, where it is possible to enhance public areas, where to improve bike lanes, and all those areas that are for the benefit of our citizens. If we can reflect at least some part of the acquired experience into the real life in our time, I will be very happy.”

One picture is worth a thousand words. And this is exactly the case. This is especially crucial for municipalities. “It is like in life. Someone can read about something, watch it on TV or has many books thereabout in the library, then it is interesting. However, if mayors or representatives of municipalities visit and can actually touch something, then there is a big probability that something will be implemented based on that. I would definitely recommend that such study trips should be participated by responsible politicians and responsible officers to create a common tandem on the study trip. Each of them actually has a different point of view and competence. They should also try to learn from the executors of these projects what would they avoid if they should start again today. It means, not to take everything like copy/paste, but to get inspired and learn. Because if the town should be smart, it should be able to learn from mistakes made by other towns and not to repeat them,” adds Jaroslav Kacer, expert of the Smart Cities Klub.

The work trip was organised under the auspices of the Smart Cities Klub within the project “Smart City Academy – air quality improvement”, which is co-financed by the Cohesion Fund within the operational programme Quality of Environment.

The Smart Cities Klub is an original informal platform serving for the exchange of experience and cooperation between the town managements and experts in the preparation of strategies and programmes on the way to a Smart City. Its mission is to change Slovak towns not only in the field of use of smart technologies but especially in the field of enhancement of quality of life of their citizens. So that we can live better, more pleasantly and mainly smart in our towns and villages.  The situation has been getting better, more and more mayors travel, get inspired, look for solutions that are usable also in our conditions. Naturally, it is useless to copy headlong, we should rather learn from the best. It is important to look for inspiration not only at home, but also in the countries that have made their journey not to repeat mistakes they challenged in the past. There is a lot to learn and get inspired by, concludes Miloslav Jurík, the chairman of the Smart Cities Klub, who implements the project Smart City Academy – air quality improvement.